By DAN WHEAT

Capital Press

WENATCHEE, Wash. -- An Ohio apple marketer and three Ohio leaders in the American Nursery and Landscape Association helped sway U.S. House Speaker John Boehner away from passage of mandatory E-Verify this fall.

The speaker had already heard from other agricultural industry associations and from House members that mandatory electronic verification of employment eligibility without a guestworker program would decimate the agricultural workforce.

But a Sept. 7 meeting of the nurserymen and Bill Dodd, president of Fruit Growers Marketing Association, Newcomerstown, Ohio, "was key in helping increase the speaker's serious understanding of the crisis factor in agriculture over labor," said Nancy Foster, president of U.S. Apple Association.

Foster referenced the incident in a speech at the Washington State Horticultural Association annual meeting in Wenatchee, Dec. 5.

Not long after the Sept. 7 meeting, Boehner told E-Verify sponsor, House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, that the needs of agriculture had to be recognized, Foster said.

Mandatory E-Verify passed the Judiciary Committee but then stalled because of agricultural opposition and concerns among House freshmen about the government assuming new powers, said Diane Kurrle, the Apple Association's vice president of public affairs.

Dodd said his meeting with the speaker included immigration, the unworkability of the H-2A guestworker program and the common knowledge that a high percentage of the agricultural workforce is undocumented.

"We made the point that if we're unable to harvest our crops then a lot of jobs in affiliated industries like trucking and packaging would be effected," Dodd said. "The speaker seemed very interested in that comment. I left the meeting feeling we had made a difference."

The meeting had been arranged by the Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform and U.S. Apple.

"E-Verify was advancing and the speaker had started to hear about problems with agriculture. He realized he needed to sit down and talk with some of his Ohio constituents who were impacted," Kurrle said.

Passage remains a top priority for Smith but "he's gotten the clear message that for it to pass the needs of agriculture need to be addressed," she said.

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